Photography is much like a Swiss army knife of visual artistic mediums. Photography can be loud and obnoxious, it can make you stare, make you gawk, and make your head spin. It can be high impact, in your face and unavoidable. To me, the best photographs are understated. The beauty of art is that one can find his or her own aesthetic within the plethora of mediums. To me photography at it’s best is beautiful, contemplative and sublime.
There’s a definite Zen like aspect to photography. In essence you are taking your visual moment and capturing it for all time. But which moment to choose? What are you going to include in your photo? It has been said that photography is a medium of reduction. If photography were simply about capturing everything in front of your lens, we would all be running around with the widest lenses we could find, snapping away like mad men. Google uses cameras mounted on vans to drive around the streets and photograph them at street level to integrate this data into their Google Map website. This is certainly a verifiable use of photography, but in the traditional context, this does not fit the bill of being fine art photography. Photography instead is about distillation of visual elements. It involves a careful selection of shapes, forms and textures within your frame to best express the idea you seek to capture.
Photography like this can’t be forced; it has to come to you. Photography is not about having the biggest hammer you can find, metaphorically smashing visual space. It’s about having a sharp chisel, honing and refining in small steps, creating a visual idea all your own. This is similar thinking to the Eastern religions of peace and contemplation. They are about the sublime, the truth beneath the obvious. Beautiful photography needs balance and harmony. Much like the yin and yang symbols fit together in a deep and beautiful way, a beautiful photograph should have a similar harmony.
The photograph Monolith: The Face of Half Dome is a beautiful representation of the Zen like aspects of a beautiful photograph. It features lovely harmony and contrast at the same time. The hard shape of the mountain vertically jutting through the frame. The course texture of the face of the mountain next to the soft, velvety snow. The interplay of black and white values between they sky and the mountain and snow. These are the things that make beautiful photographs.